Jon Rahm was the heavy betting favorite to win the Mexico Open, and he lived up to the expectation. After firing an opening-round 64 (-7), Rahm held the lead through all four rounds and capped it off with a solid finish on Sunday to take the title.
Heading into the tournament, Rahm was as short a favorite as we’ve seen on the PGA Tour in recent memory. By Thursday morning, the best odds available on Rahm were +400 at both BetMGM and Caesars. Bettors who decided to eat that heavy chalk and place a few bucks on Rahm at the beginning of the week were rewarded with the smallest outright cash on a golf tournament since the Tiger Woods era in the early 2000s.
And if you were one of the lucky ones to take a shot on Rahm and cashed those tiny tickets? Congrats! Enjoy that gourmet sandwich you can buy with your winnings.
But ask yourself honestly: Did you make a good bet?
No, you did not. And here’s why.
What Is A “Good Bet”?
One of the biggest misconceptions in the sports betting world is that a good bet is determined by whether or not the ticket cashes. This is wrong. Plain and simple.
The most important thing that separates a good bet from a bad bet is the price tag.
Read that again.
Take for instance the following example:
A Coin Flip Can Be A Value Bet Under The Right Circumstances
A friend and I are betting on the outcome of a coin flip. For every time it turns up heads I give him a dollar. Tails? He owes me a buck. We’re both getting a fair price on the expected outcome. I expect to win this contest half the time and get paid double my money every time it happens.
This is statistically perfect. We can run that scenario 20,000 times and, statistically, we’d both expect to break even.
Now, let’s say in the above scenario I can convince that same friend to lay TWO dollars for every dollar I wager. Heads, I owe him a dollar. Tails, I win two dollars. All of a sudden I’ve made the bet of a lifetime. And my friend turns out to be not so sharp. We run this scenario 20,000 times? Statistically, I can expect to be ahead $10,000.
Tails = 10,000 x $2.00 won = $20,000
Heads = 10,000 x $1.00 lost = -$10,000
Total Profit = $10,000
BUT! And this is the important part…
Let’s say we flip the coin only once. If heads comes up I’ll lose a dollar, but tails pays me two dollars. I’m going to lose this bet half the time. And if I do lose my dollar, does that mean I made a bad bet? No. I’m getting an incredible mathematical edge that we can easily calculate. And my friend who got lucky? Did he make a good bet? No, even though he won.
Which brings us back to Jon Rahm.
Jon Rahm Bettors Are Losing Money
In July 2020, Rahm won the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. That win lifted him to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings. More importantly, it cemented him as one of the pre-tournament favorites to win every golf tournament he’s competed in since. And while his outright odds fluctuate depending on the strength of field, you can be sure to find his name at the top of the oddsboard.
And fair enough! Rahm has been far and away the most consistent golfer of the last two years.
But once you do the math, you quickly understand that betting Rahm at short odds to win golf tournaments is a losing long-term proposition. He simply doesn’t win enough to justify his pricing. Sure, he’s won three times since taking the No. 1 spot, but he’s lost (or not won) a staggering 37 times.
How Much Did Bettors Cash When Jon Rahm Won?
The first of those three wins was the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields during the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August 2020. It was a limited-field event, and Rahm was not the favorite that week. Dustin Johnson was +900 to win after shooting -30 (!) the week before at the Northern Trust. Rahm’s odds were second shortest, and he cashed tickets for bettors at a meager +1000.
Bettors would have to wait almost an entire year for Rahm to enter the winner circle again. He didn’t notch another victory until 11 months later at the US Open at Torrey Pines in June 2021. The payout? He was the pre-tournament favorite at +800.
And finally, almost another full year later, Rahm wins the Mexico Open in Puerto Vallarta. With the shortest odds for any PGA Tour golfer in over a decade, bettors walked to the window to cash their teeny tiny +400 tickets.
As for the other 37 tournaments Rahm entered? Sure, he has an impressive amount of top 20s, but when you’re betting him outright? A second-place finish pays just as much as a missed cut.
A big fat zero.
Here’s how a $100 bettor would have fared backing Jon Rahm in every tournament he’s entered since July 2020.
2022 Mexico Open $400 profit
2021 US Open $800 profit
2020 BMW Championship $1,000 profit.
37 Other Tournaments -$3,700 loss.
Add it all up: Backing Jon Rahm to win since becoming World No. 1 would have resulted in a net loss of -$1,500 for a $100 bettor.
A Profitable Way To Back Jon Rahm
Picking the outright winner of a golf tournament is hard, but targeting guys like Rahm for high finishes can be profitable under the right circumstances. And at the right price. Because …
… Jon Rahm is a top-10 machine.
In those same 40 tournament starts, Jon Rahm has finished inside the top ten 21 times. That’s crazy consistent. We know outright bettors would be down $1,500 in that time span, but how would you have fared if you targeted him for a top 10 instead?
Some Quick And Dirty Math
In general, a top-10 bet is priced at 10% of the outright odds. Pulling up Rahm’s odds for 40 tournaments over the last two years is beyond my interest level and terribly time consuming. Luckily, we have enough data to extrapolate.
Rahm’s historically short odds of +400 at the Mexico Open were an outlier. On average you could find him anywhere between +1000 to +2000 for the past two years. So let’s use an average price tag of +1500 for our quick math. That gives us average odds of +150 for a top-10 ticket on Rahm. (1/10th of +1500 is +150)
And for the savvy bettor who placed a top-10 wager on Rahm each of the past 40 tournaments? Congratulations on your profits.
Rahm finished in the top ten in 21 of the last 40 tournaments he entered. A $100 bettor cashing on +150 tickets would be up a whopping $1,200 since July 2020.
21 Top Tens = 21 x $100 x 1.5 for a total of $3,150
19 Losses = 19 x -$100 for a total of -$1,950
Subtract the losers from the winners and you get a handsome profit of $1,200.
Not. Too. Shabby!
Track Your Good Bets Based On The Price Tag, Not The Outcome
The takeaway here is simple. The best sports bettors in the world look for situations that have a long-term expected positive value. And simply because you think a golfer (or any sports team) will do well doesn’t mean you’re making a good bet. It’s all about the value.
And betting Jon Rahm at +400 to win a golf tournament? That’s a quick way to lose a ton of money.